A Room with a View, Here by Richard McGuire

Posted by Liam Dodds on January 06, 2015 in Reviews tagged with , , , , , , ,

My favourite series of panels in Richard McGuire’s Here begins with a double-page feature of 1973 wherein a young woman in a grey, layered t-shirt sets up a projector screen over the course of ten double-pages. Her pale feet graze the fringes of a recognisably Seventies-pile carpet, a geometric-print curtain frames a window in the room that portrays a young couple, an artist and his muse, settling onto an azure field of 1840’s New Jersey, while in 1953 a disembodied male voice proclaims that “when you smell something you are actually inhaling modules that have detached themselves from whatever it is you are smelling.” Reading these pages I grasp at the memory of my own father gathering a projector screen from the dust, setting the tripod stand, then elongating a white screen of indeterminate material before looping a coil of wire onto the stand and setting the projector in motion. Flecks of detritus float before an image that slowly comes into focus. Click. I am watching a besuited gentleman with impeccable hair demonstrate to two Kodak executives the power of a delicate nostalgia, cycling through images of his smiling children, the man and his wife sharing a hot-dog, an image of their wedding reception, an advertisement for a slide projector. Whorls of cigarette smoke drift through the walls of a nameless function room as a male voice describes travelling, like a child, round and around and around only to return home to a place where one is loved. Click. A Native American crouches low beneath a fallen trunk and fires an arrow in 1402 that travels through three million years of history, a discarded cassette player in 1986, a woman swimming in 1352, a primordial scene set many years before the Common Era, towards the scene of a newly-redecorated modern home in 2015 and the head of a stag being placed above an ancient fireplace. “I don’t like it,” states the young woman. Click.

 

An image depicting a woman entering the room, a Native American, and a young boy labouring to build a house, all from different times

 

The graphic novel, Here, portrays the entire history of the corner of a single room in a house in New Jersey. Through the scattered compendium of select snapshots of time gathered and compiled to structure an interpretative whole, McGuire seeks to encompass the totality of life and death, love and loneliness, loss and misunderstanding through his portrayal of the subtle rhymes and coincidences of time echoing throughout the ages. Thus, the novel seeks to enclose within its frame all of those events that have occurred, and will yet occur, to this single location in space from the beginning of time towards an interminable future. As a structure, it should break, and it breaks well. Like a fist holding grains of sand too tightly, which begin to seep with sinking inevitably through the edges of reddening fingers, the memories of the reader interweave with the novel’s interconnected and overlapping images in an attempt to impose coherence, to restore narrative order. I found myself having to fight the impulse to pore through the images once more, to cross-reference each year in turn in order to understand the significance of each thread. To do so might feel like a sort of desecration. And yet, the novel exists as much in the mind and memory of the reader as it does within its elegant pages.

 

An image of a double page spread from Richard McGuire's Here depicting three young women dancing

The overlapping and interconnected narratives of Here

 

What each of the images evokes, I guess, what the very structure of the novel itself evokes, is the incorporation of a subject that is necessarily larger than the self, which can be incorporated only by the exceeding or fracturing the structure that seeks to contain it. Fracturing both novel and reader. Just as the novel seeks to incorporate the entirety of the history of the world through the narrow frame of the corner of a single room of a house built in 1907, the reader too must seek to incorporate the entire history of the universe, and therein incorporates not just the history of the various lives of the many civilisations portrayed within the novel, from colonial times to the far-distant future, but to meet this excess with their own varied personal history that interjects at times in whispers, at other times in floods. The novel comes to be constituted through its own radical expansion by the thoughts and impressions imposed on the text by the reader, just as the reader is constituted through the socially constructed relations emanating from the compelling and evocative images of the text that portray the very many lives that are not their own. Thus, the reader is forced to perform a double move in order to come to understand his or her own self in relation to the text. The reader comes to an understanding of the self through the imposition of a narrative structure based upon their own personal history, in order to gain a sense of their place within the vast history of time, while simultaneously the reader comes to understand the vulnerability of his or her self through the desire to locate the self in a single point, an instant within an image, which shudders into insignificance when faced with the entirety of eternity. This double movement is achieved due to the unique force of the image that ‘has less to do with the fact that one sees something in it, [than the] fact that one is seen there in it. The image sees more than is seen. The image looks at us.’[1]

 

 

And thus, in reading Here I come to find myself located in the midst of a disorientation of unknowingness in the corner of a single room implicated in a life that is not my own.

 


 

[1] Jacques Derrida, ‘By Force of Mourning’ in The Work of Mourning, ed. by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001) pp. 139-164 (p. 161)

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